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CHICAGO — For Rahim Budhwani, the past year has been a whirlwind of travel, visiting retailers around the world as the 2017 chairman of NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.
With members in 55 countries, the typical travel schedule for a NACS chairman would tire anybody. But for Budhwani, who claims to need no more than five hours of sleep per night, flying to and from Asia, Europe and across the United States appears to be a walk in the park.
Budhwani was the keynote speaker at the opening session of the 2017 Franchise Owners Association of Chicago (FOAC) Trade Show at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park, Ill. Looking robust and energetic Wednesday morning despite a grueling, much-delayed-by-weather flight, Budhwani addressed the audience of more than 100 Chicagoland 7-Eleven franchise owners.
He spoke about how he “accidently” entered the convenience store industry, how he learned so much from other c-store leaders through his participation in organizations like NACS and other merchant associations, and how “working hard in the store is not the same as working hard for the store,” and how important it is to do the latter.
Budhwani was a computer programmer when some friends talked him into investing in a convenience store. He hired someone to run the store for him so that he could keep his IT job. However, two days before closing on the store, the person he hired left for another opportunity, leaving Budhwani with a convenience store with a 10-year lease he couldn’t break.
“I was forced to learn how to run a c-store,” Budhwani recounted. “I would work at the store from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., then go to my IT job. As if that wasn’t enough, I attended grad school classes from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Then, it was back to the store at 10 p.m. and working until closing.”
This went on for eight long months. Today, Budhwani keeps almost as busy a schedule, but he has associates to manage the more than dozen convenience stores operated by his company, 6040 Inc., in Alabama.
The multi-talented Budhwani describes himself as a flight instructor, a wine maker, an ATM distributor, as well as a husband and father.
He credits NACS leaders like Jay Ricker and Dave Carpenter (both former association chairmen) with sharing ideas that he was able to successfully put into practice at his own smaller company. He stressed to the Chicagoland 7-Eleven franchise owners the importance of testing new ideas from others.
“We saw everyone introducing pizza so we tried pizza at a store in a Hispanic neighborhood. It was a disaster,” explained Budhwani, recalling a failed experiment. “However, we asked customers what do they want and they told us they wanted food like they eat at home. So, we converted 300 square feet of the store to a Tex-Mex deli.”
Sales in that store quadrupled in the first month, and that store achieved double-digit sales growth year over year for the next several years.
It’s important to come up with your own unique ideas, too, such as Budhwani's evolution of the Tex-Mex menu into a fusion of Hispanic food with Indian staples, which has been a great success.
“Our industry is challenging,” concluded Budhwani. “But it’s only going to get better. It keeps growing and it touches more people than any other retail box.”
More than 85 vendor partners exhibited at this year’s FOAC Trade Show event. They were thanked by the association’s Vendor Relations Director Katen Patel, before he introduced a few to make presentations about their product categories.
Nick Patel, the 2017 FOAC vice president, also announced the launch of a new manager recognition program. “Managers are the backbone of our companies,” he said, as he presented award certificates to Biren Patel, Jaynesh Patel, Donny Azarela, Nikunj Patel, and Neeta Chaudhari.
The retailer attitude at the show was cautiously optimistic as 7-Eleven franchise owners have achieved some strong results over the past few years, but are worried about new competition from Amazon, shrinking margins on a wide variety of merchandise, and the need for corporate funds to remodel and modernize their stores.